Scripture Reading: Psalm 1 Sermon Title: Pursue Godliness Sermon Text: 1 Timothy 4:5-10 MAIN IDEA: Let us endeavor to discipline ourselves in our pursuit of godliness. Introduction: Pursue Godliness five spiritual disciplines which help lead to godliness 1-Daily Bible Reading 2-Scripture Memorization 3-Prayer 4-Fasting 5-Solitude & Silence NOTE: “Scripture quotations are from the NASB." I provide this manuscript as a courtesy. I do not follow the document word for word during the message. I also do not write the document with the intent of publication; there may be grammatical errors throughout. Thanks for understanding.
Introduction: Pursue GodlinessThis morning, I am challenging myself and everyone in our church to make a spiritual resolution for 2017. The main idea of the message and our spiritual resolution for 2017 is this: Let us endeavor to discipline ourselves in our pursuit of godliness.
What is Biblical GodlinessGodliness is a term synonymous with Christlikeness and holiness. Those who pursue godliness are godly, or “God-like.” There is no greater pursuit for us as Christians than to pursue godliness. Godliness is seen in our everyday conduct.[i] When we pursue godliness, we demonstrate our fear of God and honor Him as the Sovereign Creator. Godliness seasons our speech. Godliness shows evidence of the indwelling work of God’s Holy Spirit. Godliness is a window for the world to look in and see the thankfulness in our heart which we have for Jesus our Savior. Godliness is to permeate our lives.
The Emphasis on Godliness by the Apostle PaulIn Paul’s pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus, if he desires to emphasize something, he writes, “it is a trustworthy statement deserving of full acceptance.” Listen to what Paul deems as being a trustworthy statement deserving of full acceptance:
- Jesus came to save sinners (1 Tim. 1:15)
- If we died with Him, we will also live with Him (1 Tim. 2:11)
- God saved us, not based on our deeds, but according to His mercy (Titus 3:5-8)
Discipline for GodlinessWe are to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness. Paul uses the example of bodily discipline as a contrast and analogy. Athletes don’t train because training is fun, but they train because they seek the reward. Anyone familiar with professional athletes and Olympians knows how they endure daily rigors of training. They feed themselves with the best nourishment. They get help from trainers and coaches. The best athletes seek to understand all they can about their sport. They are disciplined in their studies and training. Take the picture we have in our minds-eye regarding a disciplined athlete and ask ourselves, “Am I as disciplined as a professional athlete in my pursuit of godliness? If not, should I be? Am I developing daily habits and practices which lead me to godliness? Am I being nourished properly so I may build up in godliness? Am I committed to godliness long-term or only for a season? Am I willing to be teachable and receive input from my coaches in areas of godliness?” We need to form habits and lifestyles which build spiritual muscle. Paul says, “it is for godliness we labor and strive” (v.10). What do we labor and strive for Timothy? We labor and strive for godliness! We are to be disciplined in our efforts more so than athletes discipline their body. Bodily discipline is only of little profit. But: “godliness is profitable for all things.” (1 Tim. 4:8) That godliness is profitable for all things is a trustworthy statement deserving of full acceptance. This truth should be fully accepted fully in our lives. Therefore, let us endeavor to discipline ourselves in our pursuit of godliness. Let’s have 2017 be a year we may say we labored and strived for godliness, and in going into the year 2018, we found our efforts to be profitable in every way.
Spiritual DisciplinesHow do we discipline ourselves for godliness? We do so with spiritual disciplines. Don Whitney says, “I will maintain that the only road to Christian maturity and godliness passes through the practice of the Spiritual Disciplines.”[ii] Spiritual disciplines are the road we travel to attain our goal of godliness. It is a challenging road. Spiritual disciplines are not easy. Everyone who has sought to be disciplined with physical fitness or with dieting knows disciplining oneself is not easy. However, because “godliness is profitable for all things,” we discipline ourselves in our pursuit of godliness. Godliness is for our good.
What are spiritual disciplines?Spiritual disciplines are the practices found in the Bible that promote spiritual growth. They are biblically proven to bring results. God's people have practiced spiritual disciplines throughout history. The most commonly practiced spiritual disciplines are: daily Bible reading, scripture memorization, prayer, fasting, solitude and silence, witnessing, journaling, learning, and service. For this upcoming year, I am asking us to focus on the five listed in the sermon notes.
Words of advice and caution concerning spiritual disciplines(The following integrates an interview with Don Whitney with Desiring God ministries [iii] with points made in his book.) A few words of advice and caution about spiritual disciplines before we discuss them specifically. First, the disciplines are activities. They are not attitudes, character qualities, or fruit of the Spirit. They are things we do. Reading the Bible is something we do. Memorizing Scripture, praying, fasting, and so forth are activities. We may call them works. Second, because spiritual disciplines are works, they and our pursuit of godliness do not qualify us to see the Lord. We are qualified to see the Lord by the Lord, not by doing good things such as spiritual disciplines. [iv] Third, the Bible prescribes both personal and interpersonal spiritual disciplines. We may pray and fast alone and we may pray and fast with the church. It is good to practice both personal and interpersonal spiritual disciplines. Spiritual disciplines are not something we only do alone. Fourth, spiritual disciplines are practices taught or modeled in the Bible. Not everything is a spiritual discipline. Gardening is not a spiritual discipline. It is wrong to say, “Maybe Scripture memorization works for you, but gardening does just as much for my soul as the Bible does for yours.” God has revealed in the Bible the means of growing in Christlikeness. If it is necessary for godliness, it is promoted in the Bible. Fifth, spiritual disciplines are part of the gospel and not the next step after getting saved. Spiritual disciplines bring us deeper into the glories of the gospel and not on to an advanced level of Christianity. We do not say, “The gospel is the ABCs. Now let’s get into the deep things of God.” Spiritual disciplines help us understand the grace of the gospel and the love Christ has for us. Sixth, something we’ve talked about already, is that spiritual disciplines are not our goal. Although we cannot be godly without the practice of spiritual disciplines, we can practice spiritual disciplines and not be godly. If we practice spiritual disciplines without pursuing godliness, we will be as Pharisees. If we are still the same grumpy, selfish, prideful, sarcastic, worldly, lustful, angry person, then we are not disciplining ourselves for the purpose of godliness. We don’t endure difficult, challenging, flesh-killing, spiritual disciplines just so for the sake of saying we completed the spiritual discipline. We endeavor to grow in godliness. Let’s not fool ourselves. If we want to be like Christ, there is no shortcut. Spiritual disciplines are the ways God ordains for us to mature and be Christlike. The more we become in shape by being conformed to the image of Christ, the more we will enjoy the disciplines. We seek the joy of the outcome, and the outcome makes the disciplines worthwhile. ----------- Here are the five spiritual disciplines I am encouraging all of us to practice as we endeavor to discipline ourselves in our pursuit of godliness.
1) Daily Bible Reading
How Daily Bible Reading Leads to GodlinessJesus said man does not live by bread alone. If we eat bread every day, then we need God’s Word. Scripture is essential for us to grow in godliness. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17) Only the Word of God will equip us for every good work! The Bible equips us for our leisure activities, work, home, marketplace, and any other thing we may do. The Bible equips us for wisdom with every relationship. The Bible equips us for every good work. John Blanchard writes, Surely we only have to be realistic and honest with ourselves to know how regularly we need to turn to the Bible. How often do we face problems, temptation and pressure? Every day! Then how often do we need instruction, guidance and greater encouragement? Every day! To catch all these felt needs up into an even greater issue, how often do we need to see God’s face, hear his voice, feel his touch, know his power? The answer to all these questions is the same: every day! As D. L. Moody says, “A man can no more take in a supply of grace for the future than he can eat enough for the next six months, or take sufficient air into his lungs at one time to sustain life for a week. We must draw upon God’s boundless store of grace from day to day as we need it.”[v] We will be a good servant of Christ Jesus when we are constantly nourished on the words of the faith (1 Timothy 4:6) We need continual nourishment. Every day.
Suggestions for Daily Bible Reading
Set a TimeAudio readings of the Bible prove that we can read through the entire Bible in seventy-one hours. [vi] That is less than fifteen minutes a day. The Bible has 1189 chapters. If we divide the number of chapters by 365 days, we need to read a little over three chapters a day.
PlanThere are many Bible reading plans to choose. Select a plan you will enjoy and is right for you. Or, you can simply read three chapters during weekdays and four chapters on the weekend.
Make no substituteSome people say they read Christian books. The people who are writing Christian books are getting their fed by the Bible (at least they should be). Would we eat regurgitated food or would we rather eat fresh food? Reading Christian books is good, but it is never a substitute for reading the Bible.
My plan for daily Bible reading(NOTE: I am providing my plan as an example, not a prescription. I am only showing I also desire to be serious. I also believe I need to lead by example. My intention is not to say, “look at me!”) No read, no feed. If I haven’t read the Bible and fed my soul, my body goes without food until I do. Personally, I like to read through the Bible chronologically. I’ve subscribed to a reading plan that sends me a daily email of what I need to read.
2) Scripture Memorization
How Scripture Memorization Leads to GodlinessChuck Swindoll writes, “I know of no other single practice in the Christian life more rewarding, practically speaking, than memorizing Scripture. . . . No other single exercise pays greater spiritual dividends! Your prayer life will be strengthened. Your witnessing will be sharper and much more effective. Your attitudes and outlook will begin to change. Your mind will become alert and observant. Your confidence and assurance will be enhanced. Your faith will be solidified.” [vii] Scripture memory is indeed fruitful. For Jesus, the memory of Scripture gave Him power in the wilderness to overcome temptation. He overcame temptation because, as Psalm 119:11 teaches, God’s word is hidden in His heart, so He will not sin against God. As Chuck Swindoll says, scripture memorization will strengthen our faith, enhance our witnessing, help us give counsel to those who need encouragement and provide guidance in difficult situations. I have yet to meet a Christian who says, I’ve memorized too much Scripture. It doesn’t prove useful for me.
Suggestions for Scripture Memorization
Have a planYou can do whatever plan you would like. I encourage you to start small. If you have never done Bible memorization, don’t plan to memorize an entire chapter the first week. Plan on memorizing one verse a week to start. Plan to memorize word for word with the reference.
AccountabilityFind someone who is willing to listen to you recite your verse. Be accountable to the discipline.
MeditateMeditate on the verse. Think about it during the week. How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3)
My plan for scripture memorizationMy plan is to memorize at least one verse a week from the passage of Scripture in the sermon. At the end of the year, I will have memorized at least 50 verses. This week, I chose to memorize 1 Timothy 4:8 for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. For those who would like to join me in memorizing, I will send a memory verse with the weekly prayer emails.
How Prayer Leads to GodlinessWhen we pray, we are assuming our proper relationship with our Heavenly Father. We see Him as our source for all things; we show our dependence. We demonstrate faith in God being loving, good, and desiring to help. Prayer demonstrates we believe God’s ways to be better than our own. “Show me your way, God.” Godliness is to be like Jesus. If we are to be like Jesus, we are to pray. He demonstrated prayer throughout His ministry. Scripture commands us to pray. Prayerlessness is a sin. We are to be devoted to prayer, and we are to prayer without ceasing (Col. 4:2; 1 The. 5:17). Godliness is a life of obedience to God’s commands to pray. When we grow in Christian maturity and godliness, we will learn how to pray beyond asking for basic needs; but, instead, we will learn how to pray for those things which are spiritual.
Suggestions for PrayerJust as the best way to learn how to ride a bike is by riding a bike, we will not learn how to pray by reading a book or by talking to others. There is no easy way to learn how to pray. Learning how to pray is best done by praying.
Practicing God’s presenceOften, when praying, it feels like we are talking to the air. For those times, I have two suggestions. The first is to remember God is present. We need to learn how to be comfortable communicating with God who is a Spirit. It requires not relying upon our eyes or ears. We have evidence of God’s presence. If we confess Jesus as Lord, God is present. If we are convicted of sin, God is present. When we read and understand the Scriptures, we know the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives. If God’s Sprit is present, He is present. When we desire to abide in the love of God, and we don’t want to be moved away but desire to stay in His love, God is present. The second way we may feel like we are not talking to the air is to use the Bible. Using the Bible when we pray makes prayer more a conversation. When using the Bible, we allow God’s Holy Spirit to speak to us, and we speak in return. (give example)
Pray with othersIt is always good to pray with others. But, be careful about borrowing “shiny phrases” and trying to impress. Sincere, simple conversational prayer with God is best.
Plan for prayerPraying requires planning. It is not that we don’t want to pray, it is that we don’t plan to pray. Just as we set the alarm to take medication, we set apart time to get in our steps; we know when the Patriots are playing or when our favorite TV show is on, we need to plan and set aside time to pray. Godliness is profitable for all things. Prayer is a road to godliness. If we desire to attain godliness, prayer must be a priority.
My plan for prayerI plan on not using electronic devices until I have completed at least ten minutes of prayer. That is not a difficult plan. I am going to combine my Bible reading with my prayer. I will not rush through my Bible reading but will pray as I read. So, my Bible reading and prayer will take about 20-30 minutes. Ten minutes of prayer is not the entirety of my praying for the day. I will continue to pray as I usually do throughout the day.
How Fasting Leads to GodlinessStrictly speaking, fasting is abstinence from food. Fasting may be new to some Christians, but it is not new to God’s people.
Types of FastingThere are many types of fasts. We may partake in an absolute fast, with no food or water (Ezra 10:6; Esther 4:16; Acts 9:9). We may drink water and only fast with food. We may fast by limiting our food choices (such as give up meat or sugar). We can fast privately, as a group, or as a congregation. We can fast weekly or monthly. There is a great deal of flexibility with fasting. We also may apply a broader application of fasting for spiritual purposes, such as to deny ourselves the enjoyment of something. For example, we might give up Facebook, television, looking at our phone except for phone calls. These are all good things to do and encouraged. But, as far as the Bible is concerned, fasting is about abstinence from food. [viii]
Fasting is expectedThe Bible expects that we will fast. Jesus said, “When you fast …” because He expects His followers to fast (Mt. 6:16-17). Few of the spiritual disciplines go so radically against our flesh. However, although our body may respond with aggression to abstinence from food, we need to recognize the biblical significance of fasting. [ix]
Fast with a spiritual purposeMost importantly, as a spiritual discipline, we should never fast unless we have a spiritual purpose in mind. For example, maybe we desire to pray for a loved one. Without a purpose, fasting can be a miserable, self-centered experience about us fighting against our hunger with sheer willpower and endurance. When we have a purpose, we may use the times of feeling hungry to remind us of our purpose, and bring us to pray. [x] We fast for the purpose of godliness. Here are some ways fasting may lead us to godliness: [xi]
- To enhance prayer with hunger serving as a reminder.
- Perhaps we have sinned against God. Fasting may help us express repentance. It doesn’t atone for our sin: only Christ’s blood atones for our sin. However, fasting may be used to make us humble and contrite.
- Fasting may help us express concern for the work of God. It will serve to remind us of our need to have more zeal or compassion. We may fast as part of our desire to be reminded we need to tell others of the unfathomable riches of Christ.
- Fasting may help us in our efforts to overcome temptation. We are saying to our flesh, “you are not in charge, I deny my flesh so my spirit may grow. Flesh, submit to the Holy Spirit.”